Teachers get cash for apps
by Paige Rentz
The Jacksonville Education Association is helping its member teachers stride more confidently into the digital age.

The professional organization for city educators, the JEA is giving its members small grants to ready their iPads and MacBooks for classroom instruction.

“What we’re trying to do is help the teachers by giving them the resources to purchase apps so they can use them in the classroom for the kids” said Jeff Gossett, president of the JEA and music teacher at Jacksonville High School.

He said the organization typically picks an annual project to help teachers in the classroom, and this year, members decided it would be best to do something to help teachers better use technology in the classroom. Gossett said leadership is still trying to determine the exact amount of this year’s allotment, but estimates it will be between $30 and $50 per teacher. “That will buy a lot of apps,” he said.

Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell explained that the teachers’ Apple devices are part of the first step in the district’s digital conversion process.

“We wanted to make sure we gave it to teachers first so they’re comfortable and so they can explore,” he said.

Eventually, the district wants to move to a one-to-one model, in which every child will have a device in hand, though officials are still trying to figure out which equipment will work best for students at different grade levels.

In the meantime, Campbell said, they want the teachers to begin using the equipment to blend the devices and the technology-based instruction into the classroom. The step-by-step conversion process should give the teachers time to use the equipment to move their curriculum forward, creating a more streamlined environment for integrating the devices for students.

“The buy-in from a teacher’s group … is very exciting,” Campbell said. “If they didn’t have the buy-in I don’t think we’d see that grant available.”

Campbell said it is up to each teacher to find the programs that will work best in his or her classroom.

“We encourage them to go home and explore, to look for different apps that would help them in their classroom,” he said.

Anthony Kingston, the technology coordinator for the city schools, said the allocation by the JEA is very positive for teachers because it will allow them to try apps out as they try to figure out which are the best fit for their classrooms.

Some apps for the devices are a given, Kingston said. Everybody needs the productivity apps such as Pages, Numbers and Keynote — Apple versions of word processor, spreadsheet and slideshow presentation software. But beyond these, Kingston said, there are tens of thousands of education apps to sort through, and when teachers begin browsing the App Store for classroom programs, there may be hundreds to choose from.

A search for a “solar system” app to help look at the planets while teaching astronomy returned 165 results. “Reading comprehension” returned 151 results. “Math game” returned more than 3,000 options, and even the more specific “geometry games” returned more than 200 possibilities.

While some apps will be rated higher by users, Kingston said, that will only give teachers so much guidance as they shop.

“The only way you can really know is to try them out. This will give them the ability to try some out without having to buy a whole classroom set,” he said of the allocation.

While many apps can be downloaded and used free of charge, they commonly cost anywhere from 99 cents to several dollars and can more rarely run a teacher $14.99 or more, which can add up for teachers exploring these sorts of electronic classroom materials for the first time.

Campbell said teachers can buy certain educational and productivity apps at a discounted rate using an educational card similar to an iTunes card.

The teachers’ purchases, he said, are tied back to the school system through a district-wide Apple ID. Purchases can be sorted by school or even by teacher, he said, and with this cloud-based technology, the teacher’s apps can follow him even if he changes devices.

Gossett has seen the benefit of the devices and various apps in the classroom.

“One of the things I always told the students I wanted them to have is a tuner and a metronome,” he said, noting there are many apps that serve as both. “Kids may not go out and spend $20 on a nice tuner, but they’ll spend a $1.50 for an app to download.”

And on a smart phone or personal device, they always have them handy, he said.

In his music appreciation class, Gossett employs several apps that help teach his students about such things as rhythm and how to find a beat. Apps such as Discovr Music — an interactive web of artists — show students how music and styles are related. And Magic Piano, a game that allows users to play popular and classical songs, also teaches the students to keep a beat and play notes, he said.

“Kids love the interaction with things. Where in the past education was ‘here are the facts,’ and you gave them the facts,” he said. “Well, now you just get them started, and they find the facts for themselves.”
© 2013